great csr page banner

The Key to Adaptability: Lean Into Discomfort

It was monsoon season in Thailand and it had been pouring all morning. While getting ready for my trip to the Phi Phi Islands, a day that I would spend mostly on a boat, I wondered if the bus would even show up. Surprisingly, the bus arrived at 7:30 sharp and I climbed in to escape the rain. We made a few stops until the bus was full, mostly with couples. English was seldom spoken to me in Beijing & Seoul, my previous two destinations, so I was accustomed to wearing headphones, listening to my audiobooks and keeping to myself.

Heading into the storm...

As we approached the harbor where we would be departing from, the rain started to let up. After a short adventure orientation from our tour guide, our speedboat set out for the islands. Our first stop was thirty miles off the coast or about ninety minutes on the speedboat.

I was surprised that five minutes into the speedboat ride, a woman turned to me to engage in conversation. Her name was Mae and she was from Capetown South Africa. She was about my mother’s age and traveling with her husband. She had a sense of joy and was radiating with inner beauty. We immediately connected and got lost in conversation about traveling and what we do for a living and the mark we hope to leave on this world.

As we were getting deeper into our life philosophy, we started to experience VERY rough waters. Our little boat began to struggle and it was clear that the next hour was going to be more of a rollercoaster and less of a smooth speedboat ride.

Mae and I laughed as we rode the waves up and down and cheered as we became one with the boat and offered no resistance to the tides. Other people seemed to become rigid and uncomfortable as the boat ride became more unpredictable.

As I watched other people’s reactions to our circumstances, I was reminded that adaptability is one of my greatest strengths and had been a common theme throughout my travels.

I thought about the first night I arrived in Beijing. I took a bus instead of a subway, took the wrong bus, didn’t have access to my phone, couldn’t find anyone who spoke enough English, and wandered around in the rain carrying my ginormous traveling backpack trying to find my hotel, or any hotel, because taxi drivers couldn’t read the address in English or find it on their GPS. It took me three hours (after 23 hours of flying) to actually make it to the hotel where my friends had been waiting and worried about me. It took some serious problem solving skills, countless charade conversations with Chinese taxi drivers and navigating my way through a Chinese subway before reaching my destination. Despite the circumstances, I was able to maintain a good attitude, laugh at myself and just kept trying solutions until I finally figured it out. By the end of that first day, I felt confident in my ability to take on any travel hiccup for the rest of my three-week adventure.

The rough waters of the speedboat continued to spark a long reflection about adaptability as a key contributor to success and happiness. Adaptability or flexibility is an invaluable trait that you can practice and cultivate. Without it, you will experience rigidity, resistance and likely be unhappy with the process and the outcome. Most people try to steer clear of the rough waters and control the situation…but that’s not reality. The weather and external conditions change suddenly without regard to our plan or preferences. When hit with things we can’t control, fear and discomfort often arise and have the potential to paralyze or derail our plans. The only way to combat the discomfort, is to accept it, and then do your best with what you have. With more practice and conscious exposure to leaning into discomfort, you can start to develop your adaptability muscles.

Because Mae was also going with the flow and having fun with me, I shared my thoughts and reflection. Her response was a warm smile, kind eyes and explosive laughter. In the cutest South African accent, she replied, “if the weather gets rough, you just adjust your sails, darling.”

Eventually we got to the island and the monsoon moved on without us. The rest of the day was spent snorkeling, exploring and making friends with everyone on the boat.

Having fun after the storm!

As you move forward in your academic, athletic and career pursuits, remember that smooth waters never made a skilled sailor and to always adjust your sails as the tides and weather changes. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride.